‘GOOD GRANTSMANSHIP’: HOW TO INCREASE CHANCES OF SUCCESS?

Project /Programme Proposal and Evaluation

Background

Christopher Hopkins has been involved for 25 years as an expert in the evaluation of numerous proposals for project and programme funding. He is, for example, a contracted independent Expert for Evaluations & Assessments of Project Proposals and Project Monitoring for the European Commission regarding the European Community’s Research Framework Programmes (FP5 & FP6). Such project/programme reviews, and evaluations of institutions and personnel, have been carried out for a variety of national and international organizations, including:

Danish Environmental Research Programme (SMP);
Environment Canada;
European Commission’s Directorates General (DGs): Research, Environment, and Fisheries.
NORAD (Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation) and GTZ (German Agency for International Development Cooperation);
Research Council of Norway (NFR);
South African Foundation for Research Development (FRD);
UK Natural Environment Research Council (NERC);
US National Science Foundation (NSF).

The success rate of project proposals has the potential to be increased significantly by having your draft proposal pre-evaluated by an experienced and independent project reviewer prior to submission. If you need a specialist to critically evaluate proposals submitted for your projects or tenders, why not contact us?

The advantages of pre-evaluation of proposals

Writing a project proposal is a considerable undertaking. Grants for research and education purposes are increasingly dependent on competition for external funding. For many scientists, educators or institutions, the submission of a project proposal to funding agencies (e.g. national research councils and government Ministries, Directorates General of the European Commission) is frequently viewed as a lottery due to the low levels of success in gaining funding. However, above average proposals have significant chances of gaining funding while poor ones do not.

In many cases, the reason for failure is not bad science or poor English, nor politics. It is simply a poorly drafted proposal that has not received objective critical review and feedback regarding its relative merits and weaknesses before the application has been submitted. Furthermore, training can be provided for potential project applicants or their institutions regarding the vital ingredients involved in successful grantsmanship. Many applicants simply ignore one or more parts of essential information related to the criteria that judges the worth of every application for financial support:

Finding an appropriately short, attractive and informative title: matching the title and synopsis to the purpose of the chosen funding agency and its subsidiary programme area(s);
The central concept’s validity and relevance to the policy and purposes (scope) that guide the granting agency’s programme area. Carefully read the background for funding/instructions/guide to applicants (i.e. submission relevancy to the Call for project proposals) and become familiar with the application form;
Statement of purpose and expected (practical/applied) results, including succinctly outlining and justifying the basic premises for which the work will be conducted;
Likely socioeconomic and other practically beneficial impacts from the results, including outcome leading to development of advisory and management/regulatory processes;
Soundness of the project design and adequacy of the research/education facilities (e.g. ‘in-house’ and in the ‘field’): how the problem will be solved, including strategy, materials/equipment and methodology, establishment of databases and possible analysis of the collected data, use of modelling, etc.;
Formulation of the workplan (work breakdown, including mobilization/disposition of human and material resources during a realistic project time-cycle) needed to convincingly carry out the project from start to finish. Identifying, listing and scheduling (timetable) of the various ‘workpackages’ and their subsidiary deliverables, with milestones/indicators for marking and measuring progress along the way. Production of a clear visual overview of project tasks and timings using a Gantt chart that can be coupled with budgetary considerations (e.g. using Excel spreadsheet facilities);
Deliverables (outputs/products/activities), including development of new methods and techniques, production of documents (e.g. annual reports, papers and publications in national and international journals), active participation in important meetings (e.g. workshops, symposia, meetings of working groups), design and implementation of newsletter and/or website informing about the project and results, etc.;
Contribution to the development of the discipline(s), including future recruitment to the research/educational group(s) in the form of undergraduate students, graduate students and post-doctoral candidates, and possible design for their formal supervision by (academically) approved staff;
Appropriateness of the budget and finances, including breakdown of costs, clear identification of expenses, etc. Use of spreadsheets (e.g. Excel) to allow easily made changes for ‘adaptive management’ purposes should funding eventually be dependent on requirements to decrease, increase or re-allocate budget items;
Competence of the team leadership and personnel (i.e. proven background and expertise) that will carry out the work in the project, including who does what and why. Noting ‘complementarity’ (e.g. European Union or European Economic Zone dimension, etc.) of people and institutions in the partnership;
Summary CVs of the project personnel and collaborators (e.g. project leader, principal investigators and staff, as well as visiting researchers and external collaborators), including overview of selected publications;
Clearly identify the consortium (i.e. short overview of the collaborating institutions and personnel/facilities): outline of national, regional and wider international collaboration providing appropriate declarations (i.e. letters) of intent to participate;
Demonstration of dedicated project management and suitable governance at appropriate level: qualifications (e.g. experience and background) of the person(s) who will administratively manage the project, provide the necessary leadership. Clarification of key administrative and financial management procedures and responsibilities (good practice). Identification of steering and advisory groups/committees including representation of important stakeholders (e.g. clients and end-users). Mandates for the various groups and structures (purpose and who reports to who);
Consideration of other important matters, e.g. gender, ethnic, and ethical issues;
Bibliography providing up-to-date references to relevant literature cited in application text.
Review of ‘effort’ against ‘scoring system’ criteria (prioritize preparation and writing of what is most important for high scoring): note availability of guidelines for evaluators.

Helpful critique and advice can be provided to address the above points and:

Optimize your draft proposal before submission by providing critique as seen through the eyes of the experienced evaluator;
Offer suggestions for a more balanced proposal that meets the demands of those that will review your application later;
Devise a performance evaluation mechanism, if appropriate, in order to assess the degree of progress and success of the project.

Of course, one cannot guarantee success, but being aware of the strengths and weaknesses of drafting project and programme proposals can increase the chances of success significantly. Why not find out more?